Washington, DC man offers refuge to 70-plus protesters escaping police


Rahul Dubey was standing outside his Washington, DC, home on Monday night when police corralled hundreds of peaceful protesters onto Swann Street.They began firing pepper spray at the crowd, hitting people with batons, and arresting them for violating curfew, displaying a “predator-hunter mentality,” Dubey said.Dubey, 44, opened his doors to more than 70 protesters who sheltered in all available nooks and crannies of the three-story home.He ordered pizza for them and protected them from the police through 6 a.m. local time.”There was so many times when I was walking through the house, observing and smiling, thinking this is just an unbelievable group of people,” he said.Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Rahul Dubey has been hailed as a hero for opening his Washington, DC, home to more than 70 protesters who were attempting to flee from pepper spray being fired by police officers after breaking curfew on Monday night.Although grateful for the praise, Dubey is troubled by the fact that his reaction came as a surprise.”Why are people so shocked that I did this?” he asked. “Honestly, there wasn’t a choice if you saw what I saw.”But Dubey has left an indelible mark on those who he helped. 

“I mean, we all would have been arrested if he just went about his day so he is definitely a hero,” Garrett Reaves said. “You know most heroes wouldn’t take credit for it because that’s within their nature, but he’s definitely a hero in my eyes.”For his part, Dubey believes he was only “a microcosm” in something larger at play.”With where we are in society, people are like, ‘Wow, Rahul Dubey saved those people,'” the 44-year-old told Insider. “But Rahul Dubey was the guy who opened the door. I didn’t save those people. If you go further upstream, why does Rahul Dubey have to open the door? That’s what I want to know.”

Protesters in Rahul Dubey’s home.

Meka

It’s been 12 days since thousands across the United States began protesting over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. Within 90 minutes of being arrested over a report of a $20 counterfeit bill being used at a corner store, the 46-year-old black man died after being placed in handcuffs, with his face pressed into the road, and officers’ knees digging into his back and neck, cutting off his air supply and blood flow, as he exclaimed that he could not breathe.

Meka, another protester who sought shelter in Dubey’s house, told Insider that the video of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes was too hard to watch. “I’ve only seen the video one time,” said Meka, who asked to be identified only by his first name. “It was hard to believe it was real. I wanted to cry. I don’t know, I guess it just evoked a lot of emotion out of me,” he added.Protesters are tear-gassed for a presidential photo opFour policemen involved in Floyd’s death have been arrested and charged, but his case — which follows the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky — has triggered a nationwide reckoning, with people demanding an end to systemic racism and police violence.

In some cities, however, the demonstrations have devolved into chaos, with vandalism, looting, arson, and violence obscuring the message of the Black Lives Matter movement. Numerous cases of police clashing with protesters have also been recorded and, on Monday, disturbing scenes emerged from Washington, DC.A mile away from Dubey’s residence on Swann Street, President Donald Trump declared himself America’s “president of law and order.” But screams and explosions could be heard in the background while he spoke because federal law enforcement officials were firing tear gas and flash bangs at peaceful protesters at Lafayette Square adjacent to the White House.Trump and his entourage then walked across the forcibly cleared Lafayette Square and the president posed in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church with a Bible.

US President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John’s Church across from the White House after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020, in Washington, DC

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / Getty Images

Still, protests continued in other parts of the nation’s capital, and just over two hours later, around 9 p.m. local time, a few hundred people found themselves getting corralled onto the one-way street outside Dubey’s three-story 1,600-square-foot house.

The privilege of choosing when to ‘show up’Sarah Feldmann was among them.The 31-year-old, who works in Democratic politics, had been preoccupied the week that Floyd died, driving to New Hampshire to adopt Remy, a beagle-labrador mix, and then stopping in New York City, before returning home.Although she had been “devastated, sad, and angry” at the news emerging from Minneapolis, Feldmann said, “I think if I’m being honest I was distracted by my new dog, but I was also uncomfortable with what my role should be in this moment. I wasn’t really sure how to engage or how to show up.”On Monday, just after she talked to a friend about the need to support grieving and enraged black Americans, protesters entered her neighborhood, chanting, “March with us! Walk with us!”

For Feldmann, that was a sign — so she threw on some unmarked clothes, grabbed a bottle of water and a face mask, left some treats for her dog and keys with her neighbor, and headed downstairs to add her voice to the rallying cries of “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “Say his name,” and “No justice, no peace.”

A demonstrator walks by graffiti in Lafayette Park on June 1, 2020, after weekend protests sparked by the death of George Floyd occurred near the White House in Washington, DC.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

As the crowd neared the intersection of 15th and Swann streets, Feldmann noticed police in riot gear beginning to flood the area.

Police blocking both sides of Swann Streets.

Sarah Feldmann

“It was scary,” Feldmann said, “to try to stand up for something that you believe in — in a constitutionally mandated way — facing down these heavily armed, what looked like, soldiers.”Officers formed a blockade, prompting the group to say, “Let us march” and “We just want our voices heard.”

“You could hear the emotion in people’s voices as they were making their case about why we have this need right now to protest,” Feldmann recalled.Camara Stokes Hudson was also in that crowd. She had been marching near the White House when police began to herd demonstrators towards Swann Street. “I think many people [thought] they could just like disperse and go home because it was clear that we weren’t going to be able to find another place to stand,” she said.However, the police “cornered” the crowd from both directions, which made Reaves begin to worry.

—Sarah Al-Arshani (سارة العرشاني) (@s_arshani) June 6, 2020 The first two things that crossed his mind were “don’t get killed” and “don’t get arrested,” he admitted, choosing to “move strategically and not emotionally,” while pivoting quickly. As protesters looked for alleys so they could escape, they realized they’d all been “blocked by the police,” said Reaves. The only thing “possible was Mr. Rahul,” he added.Meka, too, remembered his nerves kicking in, saying, “I was starting to get a little scared because the longer we stood around, the more my mind kind of raced with possibilities of what would happen.”So he took out his cell phone and began recording a video of his surroundings as the chaos began. 

Meka also described feeling confused “because we tried talking to the officers and they wouldn’t talk to us. I know you can stay peaceful — as peaceful as you want — but if they want to get violent, there’s nothing that you can really do.”The crowd, which had at one point split into two groups, decided to head onto Swann Street and join up with other protesters. Immediately, police formed a blockade at their backs, effectively trapping them, Feldmann said. They then began moving “in unison and pushing forward aggressively, basically plowing” into the demonstrators, she added.’Get in the house’Dubey was standing on his stoop, watching as the kettling escalated the situation.Just moments prior, he had invited a mother-and-daughter duo to have a seat on his steps, allowed people into his house to use the restroom, and given someone access to a phone charger. 

Hudson said that police blacked Swann Street at both 14th and 15th streets for about half an hour before rushing headlong into the crowd. “With no warning, they just rushed forward on either side at the same time,” she said. “When they rushed, a lot of people attempted to flee into homes nearby, largely from the tear gas but also from the police.”Dubey took a video of the protest around 9:15 p.m. and sent it to his friends, saying, “On my street, it’s getting heavy.” Things went downhill less than 30 seconds after he hit “send” and put his phone in his pocket, he said.”I heard flashbangs, screaming, crunching shields, and batons smacking people,” he said. “The police started trampling and shoving people forcefully. It was a sea of people getting pushed toward the other end of Swann Street, like nothing I’ve ever seen, and then pepper spray started flying.”

A demonstrator is doused with water and milk after being hit with pepper spray from law enforcement officers during a protest on June 1, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

So Dubey jumped into action and flung open the door to his house.

“All I kept on screaming for 10 minutes was ‘Get in the house, get in the house, get in the house,'” he said — so that’s what dozens of protesters did. Dubey described “a tsunami of people, coughing, blinded by pepper spray, and getting clubbed in the back as they were crawling away from vicious officers who were showing no mercy.”Reaves painted a similar picture.”I saw literally someone five feet away from me get beat with a club for peacefully protesting. They had their hands up the whole time. That’s definitely traumatizing. The image is still in my head for sure,” he said.As soon as the police brigade crossed Dubey’s door, he shut it and locked it.

Inside, people were crammed into the living room, bathrooms, kitchen, staircase and landing, basement, and even the patio. It was pandemonium, Dubey said.”People were in agony, screaming, crying, and coughing, so it was just chaos over trying to figure out how to treat everyone,” said Feldmann, describing an “assembly line” with cups of water being handed out to people.’It was a predator-hunter mentality’Pepper spray had entered through the windows so milk and a baking soda-water mixture were passed around, said Dubey.”The first 10 minutes of being in Rahul’s house was complete mayhem,” Reaves said. 

At one point, neighbors were sharing milk over Dubey’s patio’s fence to help those affected by the chemicals.”People were in my upstairs bathroom, washing their faces in the bathtub, crying, holding each other,” he said.Feldmann, who used a bandanna to protect herself, recalled a black man telling her that he had been trying to escape, just like everyone else, when he heard someone falling on the ground and getting trampled. He turned around to help the woman and made the mistake of looking up. A policeman hit him in the face with pepper spray, he said.”Why is it so easy for them to not see his humanity and not take into account his physical comfort, safety, and, ultimately, his life?” said Feldmann. “He wasn’t a threat. He was helping someone. He’d been moving away from the protest and got penned in — there was nowhere for us to go.

“Why are you spraying tear gas other than to intentionally inflict pain and trauma? What is the purpose there? There’s absolutely no meaning behind it.”—Meka (@MekaFromThe703) June 2, 2020 Police Chief Peter Newsham justified the crackdown by saying officers had “started to see behavior that was consistent with the behavior that preceded the very violent activity that we had on the two nights before,” NBC News reported.More than 300 people were arrested in Washington, DC, on Monday night — nearly 200 of whom were taken into custody on Swann Street, per NBC News. Dubey described watching them from his bedroom window being rounded up, cuffed, and loaded single-file into police vans.”We had what was an indication of an escalation of potential violence in the city. We had a large group that was moving in violation of the curfew,” said Newsham, adding that pepper spray is utilized only if “anybody rushes a line.”

Dubey disagreed, labeling police’s response as “go time.””Everyone was running and they were spraying and trying to hit them as they were running away, but there was nowhere to run to,” he said. “It was a predator-hunter mentality.””I hope we never see a display like that again,” Dubey added.For Meka, Monday night highlighted the issue he is protesting against: police brutality. 

“Part of my thing is like I’ve been peaceful the whole time,” he said. “That group was extremely peaceful that night. It was the most peaceful group I’ve been with. I feel like we don’t really have to do anything to provoke it.”Meka continued: “They proved our point for us and getting that documented was important towards the movement, important towards raising awareness of the issue.”Telling police it was ‘a slumber party’After the initial bedlam passed, Dubey ordered Duccini’s pizzas. He said he ordered half a dozen pies, but people were live streaming, tweeting, and posting updates to social media so the community rallied around them by donating 20-plus more pizzas. Hashtags like #SaveJenny — one of the people who took refuge in Dubey’s house — and #SwannStreet were trending on Twitter.

Protesters were sheltered in Rahul Dubey’s home.

Meka

Meanwhile, the police continued trying to “trick” and “heckle” them, Dubey said. They tried sending two decoy protesters into the house, and when that didn’t work, they claimed that someone had called 911 for medical help.

“Rahul went to the door and told them that no one was having an emergency and we were simply his guests having a slumber party,” Feldmann said. “Rahul was a f—ing champ.”Officers then promised to not arrest protesters if they left through an alley that’s connected to the house’s patio, only to hold up the pizza delivery person for nearly an hour, Dubey added.”My first instinct was to call 911, but when the authorities are inflicting pain upon you, do you call them for help? You don’t know what to do in that situation,” Dubey said.Reaves described feeling frustrated with police tactics to draw protesters out, but appreciated how Dubey persisted in keeping them safe. 

To that, Meka added that the atmosphere inside the house was “like a well-oiled machine with just a bunch of people that didn’t know each other like 30 minutes earlier.” 

Protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died last week after being pinned down by a white police officer in Minneapolis, continue on the sixth consecutive day in Washington, DC, United States on June 3, 2020.

Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The protesters celebrated when they were finally able to get their hands on the pizza.One of Feldmann’s friends, who works for the American Civil Liberties Union and was acting as a legal observer for those who were being arrested, texted her saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m hearing a lot of screaming. What’s happening?” Feldmann replied, “Oh, that’s just us cheering because the pizza was delivered.”Even after realizing they wouldn’t be able to go anywhere until 6 a.m. local time when the curfew ended, no one wallowed in self-pity, Dubey said. Instead, they used “civil, insightful, and outcome-driven conversations” to plan rides for everyone come daybreak.

“There was so many times when I was walking through the house, observing and smiling, thinking this is just an unbelievable group of people,” he said.—Sarah Al-Arshani (سارة العرشاني) (@s_arshani) June 6, 2020 Reaves said he only breathed a sigh of relief once he was back in his own home, while Meka said that police had issued warnings that protesters were liable to be arrested in the morning for breaking curfew the night before.”We kind of planned that if we got as much press to the door as possible, they wouldn’t really harass us on national TV — so we did that,” he said. “It seemed to work.” ‘If you’re not black and you’re not uncomfortable right now you’re probably not doing enough’It was a night that put on display both the worst of humanity and the best of it, said Dubey, noting that he had come up with a 1.5 to 8.5 ratio.

“The reason why I can quantify it is because it was an hour-and-a-half of pure hell,” he said. “And that was followed by eight-and-a-half hours of humanity, collaboration, ingenuity, and loving each other.”People were sleeping back to back, Dubey said, adding, “It was sad and adorable at the same time.” For her part, Feldmann wandered around the house talking to people before curling up on the floor with a bedsheet tucked under her head. She described a feeling of camaraderie, respect, and community even though most people had been strangers at the start of the night.

Protesters hold roses in solidarity after police escalated violent actions against protesters , on May 30, 2020 during a protest against the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while while being arrested and pinned to the ground by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

Jim Vondruska/NurPhoto via Getty Images

There was a mix of people, she said, but it underscored “how infrequently I find myself in spaces where I’m in the minority” and how important it is for people to “opt in” because many lack the choice to “opt out.”

“If you’re not black and you’re not uncomfortable right now you’re probably not doing enough — whether that’s thinking, listening, learning, or protesting,” Feldmann added.As a black man, Reaves said white people can play an important role in propelling the movement forward.”White allies, if you feel a type of way about people being treated unjustly, we need y’all the most,” he said. “I don’t think anything is going to change until the people who are not oppressed feel as deeply as the people who are oppressed.”Dubey, who didn’t sleep a wink all night, said he was in awe of the outpouring of support, some of which came from people who he still hasn’t met and doesn’t know. Someone learned of the group’s plight on social media and had breakfast delivered to his house early Tuesday — Pop-Tarts, fruit, and muffins were dropped into the mailbox. Volunteers also showed up to drive protesters home. 

That day, he estimated that 40 bouquets of flowers, 50 cards, and six gift baskets were dropped off at his door.Four days later, while talking to Insider, he was still surrounded by floral arrangements and described more than a dozen people dropping by to thank him. One person drove nearly an hour from Maryland and others honked as they passed his house, where he is now self-quarantining due to the coronavirus that remains in our midst, but was rendered secondary the night he sheltered the protesters.His favorite part of Monday night was the “70 new souls” who he hopes will become permanent fixtures and positive influences in his life and that of his community.He urged Americans and people around the world to grasp “this opportunity to open up a dialogue about the most fundamental thing on this planet: humanity,” he said. “I know how important accountability is and transparency is and democracy is, but they are all subsets to humanity.”

Demonstrators march on Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol on June 3, 2020 to protest the death of George Floyd.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

‘I feel like we made a difference that night’For Meka, Monday night’s experience is in a league of its own.

“When you go out to the protest, you kind of get that feeling of like a community,” he said, and that feeling of “togetherness” was “multiplied by 100” at Dubey’s house. “It felt amazing,” he added. “It was one of the best things that I’ve ever been a part of.”Even though some moments were scary, his night on Swann Street inspired Meka to continue his pursuit of justice.”If anything, it motivated me more, especially with all the support that we were seeing,” he said, drawing strength from “seeing how many people care, how much it means to people for us to be out there.”

Most people want and try to make a difference, but “nobody’s really sure if they’re going to be able to, but I feel like we made a difference that night,” said Meka.Meka and Reaves spent several days protesting before ending up on Swann Street. They plan to continue to speak out against injustice in the coming days.”We’re right back at it,” said Reaves, after a two-day hiatus to mollify his mother, who was extremely worried about him on Monday. As black men, the pair feel compelled to stand up. 

“I just feel really strongly about this cause as a black man,” Meka said. “There’s no reason that we should be disproportionately treated badly by police the way we are.”



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